As we all know, the Tour de France is the biggest bike race in the world. Not the best, necessarily, but definitely the biggest. It has the top riders, the highest viewing figures, the most colourful history, and a whole village full of media coverage and corporate schmoozing following it around the country.
If nothing else, the Tour de France is a serious merchandising operation.
In the modern sporting world the media have brainwashed us into thinking the ability to generate revenue is the single most important gauge of success, a point proved in other sports by the obsession with wages, prize money, and sponsorship deals.
I mean, professional golf has a ‘money list’, for goodness sake. Just so we’re all absolutely clear about which badly dressed corporate marketing tool has earned the most hard cash for our viewing pleasure.
(And yes, golf fans – I know I’m on shaky ground as a cyclist using the term ‘badly dressed’…)
Has the naked pursuit of wealth ever been so shamelessly flaunted?
Pro cycling certainly hasn’t reached (or stooped, rather) to quite that level, but if you’re looking to fill your shopping bags with promotional merchandise, the Tour de France might just be the sporting event for you.
A quick browse of the official website will point you in the direction of a souvenir teddy bear (£12.00), a polka dot handled knife (£15.00…slightly sinister), a Tour de France fold away chair and bag (£16.00), playing cards (£4.00…the cycling link is getting a bit sketchy now).
Ahh, OK, I get it now.
Apart from the teddy bear, which is purely for that part of the Venn diagram where cycling fans and middle aged teddy bear collectors meet (it’s a niche market), they are trying to sell us a Tour de France survival kit. “Come watch the Tour de France”, they are saying, “and bring along a folding chair to take the weight off your feet, a pack of cards to pass the time waiting for the riders, and a knife to cut your bread and cheese (because you’re in France, so what else are you gonna eat?!).
And then there’s the cap, the mug, the official programme…
Short of providing a yellow Tour de France ‘Portaloo’ they’ve got all your bases covered.
I’m not sure about you, but that meticulously branded merchandise laden cycling fan sitting at the side of the road is not me. It’s not anybody I know either. It’s the Tour de France equivalent of that moment the TV camera at a baseball game zooms in on the large gentleman with the beer can hat, the implausibly large hot dog, and the replica team jersey and baseball mitt, for whom the sporting action seems to be secondary to the buying and consuming of stuff.
Maybe I’m being harsh?
What the website doesn’t appear to sell is a replica of the little lion mascot handed to to the riders as part of the podium presentation each day. Which is surprising. Because it’s on the telly every day people would probably buy that. It makes me wonder whether they’re in short supply.
Is it possible they might run out mid-race?
If so, I have a solution.
As anyone with even the slightest interest in pro-cycling will be aware, Peter Sagan is busy cultivating a luscious mop of hair. Were he to visit the plains of Africa, he would have the local lion population green with envy when comparing their own lacklustre manes to his. If they run out of ridiculous stuffed toy lions to hand to the race winners, Sagan will have to step in.
If push came to shove, I reckon most riders would prefer a stroke of Sagan’s hair and a little cuddle with the Slovak star anyway. Perhaps they could even lop a few locks off his head and add them to the website merchandise? While they’re at it how about a Peter Sagan action figure that can pull the patented Peter Sagan wheelie, and execute the Peter Sagan bunny hop?
I bet they’d sell a bit quicker than the Tour de France piggy banks (£8.00), that’s for sure.